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Neapolitan director Pietro Marcello, who made the transition from high-profile docs to fiction with his Naples-set 2019 adaptation of Jack London’s Martin Eden – that made a splash on the international art-house scene – has now tackled a France-set tale inspired by a Russian novel in his new film “Scarlet” (see review) that mixes fable, musical, historical and magical realism elements.

The pic’s central character is Juliette, played by promising newcomer Juliette Jouan, an orphan girl raised by a community of women and by her father Raphaël, a burly soldier who returned from the First World War to find that his adored wife after giving birth had passed away.

Marcello spoke to Variety about what he calls his first ‘feminine’ film. Excerpts.

There is a strong sense of matriarchy in this film. You’ve underlined its feminine aspect.

I’ve always made films that are quite masculine. “Martin Eden” certainly was. This time I’ve made what I call a feminine film. Of course there is a strong father figure, Raphaël. And then there is a more modern man [played by Louis Garrel] whom Juliette falls in love with. But after she cures him, he leaves. And Juliette stays, as does her independence. Life goes on. I think that with this film I’ve killed prince charming. And I’ve done that because she is surrounded by women.

It’s your first French film. What was it like making a film in France and in French?

My daughter moved to Paris with her mother, so I followed just to to be close to her. I had just finished “Martin Eden” and producer Charles Gillibert proposed I make a film inspired by Alexander Grin’s “Scarlet Sails.” I fell in love with the novel. Six months later I found myself shooting “Scarlet” in Picardie. It was obviously an adventure. In Italy I have a network of acquaintances in the film trade. I know whom to turn to for what I need. While in France I knew nobody. And I didn’t speak a word of French. By gradually, I got into it. I entrusted myself to my producer, let go of my fears and I just launched myself.

Talk to me about working with Oscar-winning composer Gabriel Yared.

Working with Yared was a completely new and, I must say, fundamental experience. Gabriel accompanied the project from the very beginning and was close to me. He is an extraordinary man, a great contemporary composer with whom I shared everything and he was one of the most important guides of this work, a true reference. Thanks to him I learned so many things and I can only thank him for all that he was able to give to me and to the film. 

And with your DP Marco Graziaplena.

Since it’s a period piece we used hand held camera. I like being behind the camera, so we used two cameras, which created a counterpoint. We were in a state of grace. I also really enjoyed working with my editor, Carole Le Page who greatly contributed to the film with her cleared eyed sensibility.

It sounds like there was strong sense of community on set

That is what I’m passionate about. First of all we need to go back to being a community, to being together and finding a raison d’être for what we do. I’m not a director who is obsessed with his career. I’m not in competition with others, just with myself.